Category: Ottoman Empire

The Moon Star Flag: How Turkey’s Flag Came To …

The Turkish national flag is mostly red, with a white star and a crescent in the center. Ottoman Sultan Selim III formalized the look in 1793, but the flag is actually much older.

The crescent-and-star combination has been used in Turkey since Hellenistic times (400s to 100 BCE). It likely came from ancient Mesopotamian iconocraphy. Ancient depictions of the symbol always show the crescent with horns pointing upward and with the star placed inside the crescent, for reasons that have been lost to time. When it came to Turkey, they gave it their own meanings. For Byzantium the moon symbolized Diana, also known as Artemis, the patron goddess of the city.

In 1453, when the city was conquered by the Ottoman Empire, the flag remained unchanged. With time, it became not just Istanbul’s flag but the Ottoman flag, with its design formalized in 1793 and its status as national flag formalized in 1844. Turks affectionately call the flag “ay yildiz” – the “moon star” flag.

Many nations that were once part of Ottoman Empire adopted the star-and-crescent when they gained independence, including Libya, Tunisia, and Algeria. In the 1900s the symbol became associated with not just the Ottomans, but with Islam in general, and many states that were never part of the Ottoman Empire adopted it too, including Pakistan, Malaysia, and the Maldives. Pretty amazing that an ancient Mesopotamian symbol is flown around the world today.

A Tale of Two Brothers

Mihailo and Mahmud Anđelović were separated as infants. Although they belonged to a branch of the aristocratic Greek family Angelos, their branch had taken refuge in Serbia after the Ottoman conquest of Thessaly in 1394.

The family could not escape the Ottomans entirely. Mahmud was captured by Ottoman Turks as an infant, brought up near Edirne in Turkey, and converted to Islam. Mahmud grew up to be smart and capable. He rose through the Ottoman bureaucracy to become beylerbey (senior provincial governor) of Rumelia in 1451, and Grand Vizier in 1455.

Mahmud’s brother Mihailo (or Michael in English) stayed in Serbia. He served as a Serbian court official under the reigns of Đurađ and Lazar Branković. Serbia at the time was a state bordering the Ottoman Empire, and was largely dominated by the Ottoman Empire.

The two brothers were eventually reunited! But under strange circumstances. In the negotiations between Serbian ruler Lazar Branković and Ottoman emperor Mehmed II in 1457, Mihailo was sent to represent and negotiate for Lazar, and Mahmud represented and negotiated for Mehmed II!

The last Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Mehmed …

The last Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Mehmed VI, leaves Dolmabahçe Palace for the last time – November 17 1922

via reddit

Mahmud II: The Great Reformer

historical-nonfiction:

Often called “Peter the Great of Turkey,” Mahmud II was the 30th sultan of the Ottoman Empire. He reigned from 1808 until his death in 1839. Mahmud II oversaw extensive military, administrative, and monetary reforms which were capped by the Decree of Tanzimat in 1839.

Tanzimat was an overarching modernizing effort which, among other things, ended tax farming, created military conscription from districts based on size (instead of the hereditary Janissaries), and created legal and social equality before the law for all citizen (instead of different religious systems operating autonomously, often with special privileges for favored sects). One aspect of Tanzimat greatly limited the sultan’s power: it guaranteed citizens the rights of life and property. This meant sultans could no longer execute or confiscate the property of anyone at whim.

Unfortunately, Mahmud II died in 1839, so Tanzimat had to be implemented by his sons and successors.

derivativesequence: The Auspicious Incident

Mahmud II is mostly remembered today for his … harsh … elimination of the janissaries. The once-elite fighting force had become an outdated, hereditary power broker that had overthrown previous sultans who attempted to curb their power, rather like the Praetorian Guard of the Roman Empire centuries before. So Mahmud’s harsh elimination of the janissaries was warranted.

In a nutshell, the Auspicious Incident was a revolt by the Janissaries after Mahmud II attempted to organize a new army, which would be modeled after contemporary European armies. The janissaries revolted, predictably, as they had in response previous attempts to modernize the army. The revolt was put down by having his new, modern troops fire on the janissary barracks. They caught fire, and those who escaped the fires were shot. About 4,000 were killed. Survivors were hunted down, and had their property confiscated, were executed, or both.

Just like that, the janissaries were done. Mahmud II managed to do what many sultans before him could not. The janissaries were no longer a sword, held to the sultan’s throat, which could change policies and regimes on a whim.

Mahmud II: The Great Reformer

Often called “Peter the Great of Turkey,” Mahmud II was the 30th sultan of the Ottoman Empire. He reigned from 1808 until his death in 1839. Mahmud II oversaw extensive military, administrative, and monetary reforms which were capped by the Decree of Tanzimat in 1839.

Tanzimat was an overarching modernizing effort which, among other things, ended tax farming, created military conscription from districts based on size (instead of the hereditary Janissaries), and created legal and social equality before the law for all citizen (instead of different religious systems operating autonomously, often with special privileges for favored sects). One aspect of Tanzimat greatly limited the sultan’s power: it guaranteed citizens the rights of life and property. This meant sultans could no longer execute or confiscate the property of anyone at whim.

Unfortunately, Mahmud II died in 1839, so Tanzimat had to be implemented by his sons and successors.

Napoleon the War Criminal

On March 10, 1799, the Ottoman city of Jaffa (in what is today Israel) fell to Napoleon and his French troops. The general ordered his men to slaughter several thousand men in the city’s garrison that had been taken prisoner, mainly Albanians.

Napoleon viewed this as justice for the Ottomans killing French messengers sent to Jaffa. Today it would be a war crime.

The Bizarre Silence Of The Ottoman Emperors

It was considered unseemly for the sultan to speak too much. To allow the ruler to communicate without speaking, a form of sign language was introduced, which was used by his advisors and eunuchs.  As a result, the Ottoman Emperor spent most of his day surrounded by complete silence.

Mustafa I (1591 – 1639) found this impossible to bear and tried to have it banned, but his viziers refused to allow it. Mustafa I ended up going insane and was seen throwing coins into the sea for the fish to spend.

Regular

In British English, raisins are also called “sultanas.” That’s because they were originally a foreign import, from the Ottoman Empire. In the UK and Australia, “Raisin Bran” cereal is “Sultana Bran.”

The Sauds and the Salafis: The History of a Po…

Born in 1703, Muhammad ibn Wahhab came from Najd at the heart of Arabia. After study in Medina and 12 years of travel and study in Iraq, he returned to Arabia to launch a puritanical reform of Islam. He took aim at popular piety, destroying saints’ tombs and cutting down sacred trees. He ordered the stoning of adulterous women, and preached jihad against unbelievers – Shia Muslims among them. In short, he rejected 1,400 years of Muslim thought. But his message was popular. By the mid-1700s, Wahhab’s “True Muslims,” or Salafis, were powerful enough to be making alliances with the Bedouin Saud family against the Ottomans. In return, the first Saudi state endorsed the Wahhab movement. It benefited both sides: the Wahhabs had support for their extreme religious reforms, and the Sauds had given their new state legitimacy that came not from royal blood but from religious purpose.

This symbiotic relationship remains today: Saudi Arabia supports Wahhabist schools around the world, and Wahhabists recognize the Sauds as deserving to rule due to their commitment to purifying Islam.

Gallipoli and the Making of Ataturk

It is 1915, and World War I has just started the year before. The Allies want a new route to Russia. Russia wants a new route out of Russia, as it was isolated geographically and lacking modern weapons, although it had one of the largest armies. Turkey is the easiest way through.

Though it was with the Central Powers, the Ottoman Empire was known to be weak. So the British and French decide to land on a little peninsula named Gallipoli:

But just then, before enough Anzac [Australian and New Zealander] troops could be brought up to consolidate what had been gained, Mustafa Kemal arrived with a single ragged battalion at his heels. Compass in one hand and map in the other, he had been leading a forced march to the shore since getting word of the landing. As soon as he saw the enemy troops, he led his men in an attack that cleared the crest.

He then ordered his men to lie down, rifles at the ready, and sent back word for the rest of the battalion to hurry forward. An epic fight for the high points called Chunuk Bair and Sari Bair was on, and what followed was a day of desperate close-quarters fighting, most of it hand to hand, with both sides constantly bringing forward more troops and launching one assault after another.

Kemal, ordering his men to make yet another charge in which no one seemed likely to survive, uttered the words that would forever form the core of his legend.

“I don’t order you to attack,” he said. "I order you to die. In the time which passes until we die, other troops and commanders can take our place.“

Quoted from GJ Meyer’s A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918. Chapter 16: Gallipoli.